Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rights Group Slams Governments for "Double Standard" on Arab Spring

By William Fisher

Predicting that the current Middle East unrest would continue through 2012, Amnesty International is slamming Western governments for their tepid responses to peaceful protests, for their “double standard,” and for being more concerned with preserving their political and economic interests than with the historic changes sweeping the region.

The charges are being made in a new Amnesty report, “Year of Rebellion: State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa.”

The Report says, “Many powerful governments performed political somersaults or continued to ignore human rights violations in the region.” They “sought to protect their own political and economic interests” through the varying and inconsistent reactions of foreign powers saying they were looking out for their own instead of truly looking after protesters dying in pursuit of legitimate freedoms and rights.”

It says there was an initial reluctance to support the protest movements by western governments, citing the initial silence of the French government on Tunisia and the US administration on Egypt. The US supported Mubarak until his “refusal to resign risked a much deeper social revolution and a much greater threat to the status quo in the region.”

The report was also critical of the UN’s responses, despite the gross human rights violations perpetrated against peaceful protesters across the region.

Amnesty International has three million members and supporters in more than 150 countries.

It contrasted the UN Security Council’s fast response after Libya’s uprising took off, sanctioning a no-fly zone and airstrikes (which it then said surpassed its mandate to “protect civilians”), and the slow and non-existent responses when it came to Syria and Bahrain.

The report also cited the late condemnation by the Security Council of human rights violations in Yemen, saying that it urged Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign a power transfer deal which granted him immunity, an act prohibited by the UN Secretary General’s directives, it argued. That deal was approved by the Yemeni parliament yesterday.

Nor did the European Union’s (EU) response escape criticism. The report said, “The initial reaction [of the EU] was limited to sanitized statements calling for restraint by all sides and negotiations.”

It added: “The EU continued its long-standing relations with repressive states in the region and opted for diplomatic advances rather than openly condemning human rights violations,”

It said that the EU’s belated offers of financial support for pro-democracy and pro-human rights – while a positive development – is seemingly being stalled by the EU.

It blamed the EU for continuing its policies that subordinated human rights to trade and energy interests, which led it to provide political and financial support to authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty focused special attention on what it called the “double standards” it claimed are present across all the major uprisings taking place in the Arab World in 2011.

The “disjuncture between the words and deeds of powerful governments and institutions were exposed and undermined. It can only be hoped that the year of rebellion signals an end to policies that put an illusory ‘stability.’

Mideast protests and government repression will continue through 2012, the organization predicted.

"With few exceptions, governments have failed to recognize that everything has changed," Philip Luther, Amnesty International's interim Middle East and North Africa director, said in the report.

"The protest movements across the region, led in many cases by young people and with women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient in the face of sometimes staggering repression.

"They want concrete changes to the way they are governed and for those responsible for past crimes to be held to account. But persistent attempts by states to offer cosmetic changes, to push back against gains made by protesters or to simply brutalize their populations into submission betray the fact that for many governments, regime survival remains their aim," he said.

The 80-page report, which describes 2011 as “historic” and “tumultuous,” discusses the rights issue in each country where uprisings, protests and countering repression took place. Other subjects such as promoting human rights in the region and what the organization has achieved on the ground during the revolutions are also included.

Most of the countries currently in turmoil were singled out for criticism.

In Egypt, Amnesty found that the military rulers had been responsible for abuses that were "in some aspects worse than under Hosni Mubarak". About 84 people had died under violent suppression between October and December last year, while more civilians had been tried before military courts in one year than under 30 years of his rule, it said.

In Tunisia, it was "critical" that a new constitution was drafted to ensure it guaranteed protection of human rights and equality under the law, the report said.

Amnesty also criticized international powers and regional bodies for "inconsistencies" in their response to the situations in Libya, Syria and Bahrain, and of "failing to grasp the depth of the challenge to entrenched repressive rule".

The report noted that Bahrain set up acommittee to investigate what happened during the unrest and brutal crackdown, by commissioning an independent inquiry. The inquiry’s results, reported in October 2011, criticized the government for using excessive force and torture, as well as making arbitrary arrests. This critcism was accepted by the King, who vowed to make amends and punish culprits. He said that the time for action is now, while the people still have hope for a new future….”

Amnesty International, in its statement said, “The call for justice, freedom and dignity has evolved into a global demand that grows stronger every day. The genie is out of the bottle and the forces of repression cannot put it back.”